22 April 2010

On Combined Arms

It seems that the controversy stirred by Col. Gian Gentile's latest article has really taken off. Truth be told, I don't have too many issues with the premise of his article, but rather, some of the semantics. Certainly, we all feel that armored fighting capabilities have declined and that it poses a danger to a balanced force.

The 2006 Lebanon War provides today's military with a wealth of case studies. Perhaps one of the most notable is not the performance of the IDF's Merkava tanks, but rather, the intellectual currents within the IDF's leadership. Prior to the war, the IDF, much like the US, was beginning to incorporate Effects-Based Operations (EBO) doctrine. Unfortunately, the doctrine was poorly understood, unevenly taught, and badly implemented. IDF officers were often found parroting buzz-words from EBO (was their knowledge only PowerPoint deep?), with little understanding of the doctrine. Some officers would use the same word to refer to different concepts, sometimes multiple words were used to describe the same concept.

The new terminology really did little more than muddle the minds of the IDF's leadership. So much so, in fact, that IDF division commanders found themselves receiving orders in July 2006 which directed them to "achieve standoff domination of the theater", and other nebulous and ill-conceived demands.

A similar situation, I fear, is creeping into the recent armor discussion. Specifically, with terms like "combined arms" and "armor mindset". MikeF, in particular, makes a good point that a number of armor officers in the thread agree that the US military is losing the armor mindset, yet can't quite agree what the armor mindset quite is, exactly.

Recently, Col. Gentile claimed that that years of counterinsurgency in Palestine had degraded the IDF's ability to conduct combined arms operations:
Every study that I have read on the Israeli Army in summer 2006 acknowledges that one of the significant problems that led to their drubbing on the ground was the atrophied state of their combined arms competencies.
Yet, Andrew "Abu Muqawama" Exum claimed in a recent study of the 2006 conflict:
U.S. military planners, however, should take heart from the fact that when the IDF was able to mass combat power and make effective use of combined arms, it roundly defeated Hizballah’s formations—even in their makeshift village fortresses.
I'm curious:

1.) What are "combined arms"?
2.) Are we losing our "combined arms" capabilities?
3.) Are we losing certain aspects of combined arms capabilities?
4.) Are we losing combined arms capabilities at different levels?
5.) What contributed to the IDF's defeat in Lebanon?
6.) Did the IDF fail in Lebanon?

Combined arms are "an approach to warfare which seeks to integrate different arms of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects". For example, it might be integrating artillery and infantry, armor, and aviation forces together in a single engagement.

Are we losing that capability? Initially, I might say no. Certainly, the larger battles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--such as Wanat, COP Keating, Anaconda, as well as conflicts in urban areas of Iraq would have us believe that such forces can work in close conjunction with one another. The seige at Wanat, in particular, was held off by infantry forces, and driven back by artillery, as well as fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. Certainly, one can look on this as "combined arms"--just combined arms without tanks and armored personnel carriers. Of course, armored vehicles bring exceptional capabilities to the fight in irregular conflict, and should not lay by the wayside. Nevertheless, is the claim that we're losing our "combined arms" capabilities alarmist? Are we just losing some combined arms and not others?

We're also executing combined arms operations at lower and lower levels, as well. A company or platoon-level mission might have a gunship escort for cover, for example. Troops can call on this gunship for direct support if necessary, bypassing the need for higher-level coordination. Does pushing assets to the lowest level degrade our fighting capabilities at the corps level? (Can higher level planners answer this one?)

I'm also wary of attributing the IDF's performance in Lebanon to one factor, e.g., the over-emphasis on counter-insurgency operations. Hezbollah prepared for the war for nearly six years after the IDF's withdrawal, building hardened fighting positions which were nearly undetectable. The terrain in Lebanon tended to channelize the IDF's movements along a few roads. As IDF Merkavas advanced, Hezbollah fired sophisticated anti-tank missiles from villages--essentially using the villagers as human shields. It also didn't help the IDF that their axis of advance became blatantly obvious to Hezbollah once it began, allowing Hezbollah ample time to set up an ambush.

While the lack of training in the IDF's Merkava crews certainly played some role in the action which claimed the lives of eight IDF troops and resulted in damage to eleven tanks, certainly, there were greater forces at work.

Thoughts? Anyone from the IDF care to weigh in? Hit the comment button.

Hot women from the IDF? You can contact me on Facebook...

No comments: